Elana Shap
May 28, 2023

We’ve become used to airlines drastically cutting costs after heavy pandemic losses, including measly sandwich snack packs arriving on our trays in place of a real meal.

So, when Israeli national airline El Al announced a high-profile chef is revamping its menus – across all flight classes – it came as exciting news.

Especially when the chef is Assaf Granit, whose Parisian restaurant, Shabour, received a Michelin star in 2021.

Until the new menu is rolled out in a few months, El Al passengers heading to more than 50 destinations will still have to make do with the regular couscous and meatballs, pita with a container of Sabra hummus, breakfast blintzes and the old standby — parve chocolate mousse with the slight aftertaste of nondairy creamer.

However, on Israeli Independence Day on April 26, passengers on some El Al flights got a taste of the future in the form of a one-time-only falafel menu created by Granit with Israeli chain Falafel b’Ribua (Falafel in the Square).

Choices included classic falafel, Persian-style falafel with lemon and herbs, and falafel spiced with mango and baharat.

The man behind the meals

Israeli airline food gets a celebrity chef upgrade
Chef Assaf Granit. Photo by Tami Bar Shai

Granit, 44, was born in Jerusalem where he opened his first restaurant, Machneyuda, in 2009. Located near the Mahane Yehuda Market, it became a trendsetter and made it to 50Best, the annual ranking of international restaurants by British media company William Reed.

Granit also became a celebrity chef by appearing as a judge in the Israeli reality cooking competition TV show, “Game of Chefs.”

The MachneYuda Group, of which Granit is a partner, has grown to 30 restaurants and projects including Palomar, Barbary Brasserie and Coal Office (a collaboration with designer Ted Dixon) in London; Balagan bistro and Tekes (vegetarian) in Paris; Berta restaurant and cocktail bar in Berlin; and Sella in the Caribbean island of St Barthes.

Flying restaurants

At the recent press launch to reveal the identity of the airline’s new chef, everyone was tight-lipped about what fare could be expected.  

An “upgraded and refreshed culinary experience” was how VP of El Al Service and Customer Experience Oren Cohen Butansky described the upcoming changes.

CEO Dina Ben Tal Ganancia said the new menu would highlight Granit’s “unique fingerprint.”

Granit would only say that that his head “is full of ideas on how to turn El Al’s fleet of planes into flying restaurants” and promised to “bring the magic and beauty of Israel to the whole world.” 

Generous and surprising

To get an inkling of what might be served under Granit’s culinary control, take a look at what the Michelin Guide describes as his “generous and surprising creative cuisine” and then imagine it adapted to meet kosher dietary requirements.

The guide notes, for example, chicken livers with “the best mash potato ever” and caramelized onions, seared mullet in “a Middle Eastern take on bouillabaisse” and Turkish coffee-braised brisket. Desserts from Granit’s restaurants include honey cake with milk toffee and olive, as well as Turkish-style rice pudding with fig milk.

Dishes on Granit’s menus are often described with humor. If this is transferred in-flight, it would certainly lighten the atmosphere and help pass the time.

Who could help but smile when faced with Fifty Shades of Onion Tortellini or Back to our Crazy Mushroom Risotto with Truffle Oil and Parmesan?  

Shabour is billed as a restaurant to “bridge Paris to Jerusalem” and the menu is titled “La Voyageur.”

Now onboard El Al flights, Granit can see to it that the culinary bridge stretches even farther.  

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

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